Chris Curtis, the original drummer and backing vocalist for influential 1960s Merseybeat combo the Searchers, died Feb. 28 in Liverpool after a long illness. He was 63.

Chris Curtis, the original drummer and backing vocalist for influential 1960s Merseybeat combo the Searchers, died Feb. 28 in Liverpool, England, after a long illness. He was 63.

Three years after their formation in 1960, the Searchers scored a U.K. No. 1 with "Sweets for My Sweet" (Pye), one of a string of cover songs Curtis was instrumental in selecting. Several U.K. hits followed, including the 1964 chart-toppers "Needles and Pins" and "Don't Throw Your Love Away," leading some tastemakers to suggest the band's fame matched that of local stars the Beatles. The Searchers were an acknowledged influence on a number of U.S. bands, ranging from the Byrds to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

The original Searchers line-up also included Mike Pender, Tony Jackson and John McNally. Curtis, whose real name was Christopher Crummey, was the band's most high-profile, extroverted member onstage. He left the band in 1966 after an Australian tour and was replaced by Johnny Blunt.

Following his departure, Curtis worked as a songwriter and producer with '60s hit-makers Paul & Barry Ryan. He also recorded with such acts as the Flowerpot Men and Roundabout; he was lead vocalist in the latter band, which included future members of Deep Purple.

More recently, Curtis worked with the Merseycats charity, which organizes shows with original Merseybeat-era bands to raise funds for needy children.